Sometimes life throws more than we can handle at us. It feels like we’re stranded in the wilderness and we’d really just like to pull the sleeping bag up over our heads. In reality, though, we know that’s not really a choice. So, gritting our teeth, we climb out of the tent, pack up, and start walking. We hang on for dear life. We keep going because we have no other choice. We beg God for a sense of His presence and for a breakthrough in our circumstances.
Times like this remind me of hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. While hikes in the Rockies seem to have yet another magnificent vista just around the next curve, my hikes in the White Mountains seemed mostly to be shaded paths in the middle of the forest. I knew the views would come, but sometimes it took a long time to find them. For me, these hikes have offered a framework for thinking about the different parts of the laments that we’ve been talking about: the plea and the praise.
Struggle and Hope in the Wilderness
Sometimes when we’re hiking we hit stretches of the trail where we can’t see very far ahead. It’s hot and humid. The trees close in around us. There are mosquitoes, black flies, or gnats swarming everywhere. Oh, and if you’re hiking with kids, they’re complaining.
You may enjoy this part of the trail, but I really don’t. This is the part I just want to get through. I want out. That’s what life is like for the psalmist in the plea section of the laments. He or she is just being a bit more vocal and not putting a pretty face on it.
Hiking, you have two choices. You can turn around and call it quits or you can keep going. In life, though, you can’t turn back. So, what keeps you going? For me, sometimes it’s just sheer determination, but often it’s the hope for what’s ahead.
We can compare this hope to one way of understanding the praise section of the laments. The psalmists are walking through their own personal nightmares, vehemently coming before God’s throne. But despite their circumstances, they have hope. They know that God is faithful. They know that He hears them. They know things will change.
The knowledge that things will eventually change can keep us going, but it isn’t the same as experiencing the thrill of reaching the mountaintop or coming out of the trees and seeing an amazing panorama lying before you. Actually seeing this view reflects not only the words but the experience of the praise section. You knew it was coming, but experiencing it is completely different. Something fundamental has changed around you. The praise of the laments isn’t just a hope for the future or theological head knowledge. The praise is experienced just as viscerally as the plea.
When we first read the praise sections, it can really seem as if they just express the speaker’s theological beliefs. In this reading of the laments, the speaker desperately pleads for God’s intervention but then follows that plea—including the blame—with an affirmation that God is good and hears our prayers.
If we spend a bit more time in these psalms in the middle of our own struggles, though, we can start to see that the praise sections aren’t simply theological expressions of trust. The entire tone changes. The speaker moves from hurting, angry, demanding, and even vengeful to heartfelt praise.
An Example: Plea and Praise in Psalm 13
Psalm 13 offers a good example. Verse 1 opens with the psalmist’s complaint:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
The speaker not only describes their feeling of abandonment, but also blames it on God: “how long will you hide your face from me?”
The plea continues through verse 4, but in verse 5 we see a shift:
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
As noted above, we can read this verse in two ways. The psalmist may be expressing their hope that God will act. But it may also reflect a response to God’s actual intervention. That God has likely responded in some way is seen in the second half of the verse: “my heart rejoices in your salvation.” The speaker has moved from an experience of abandonment to an experience of God’s salvation. Something has changed.
What has happened? The text doesn’t tell us. All we know is that the speaker’s outlook has changed. Some scholars believe that the psalmist has received a word from God, perhaps from a priest. Or it may simply be the passage of time that has allowed the speaker to see how God has worked things out.
So, this week, I’m praying for you—praying that you will have hope no matter the storm you are facing. But I’m also praying that God will intervene in your life, whether it is in a prophetic word of encouragement from someone around you, a transformation of your perspective, or a change in your circumstances. May our God, who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15) meet you where you are and bring you not only to a place of hope, but to a place where you can joyfully praise Him.
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The image is courtesy of Pixabay.